1. RB Jamaal Charles (Kansas City)
Jamaal Charles’ career 5.8 YPC is most all-time of backs with more than 500 career carries. Sure, he’s had just 784 carries in 5 seasons: but remember who he’s had as Head Coaches, Herm Edwards, Todd Haley, and Romeo Crennel. While Andy Reid hates to run the football, when he does, he’s faithful to one back and his playbook has enough passes to backs that Charles should be able to surpass his career high of 320 touches in a season. He’ll catch plenty of Alex Smith check downs and is a solid bet to catch 55-60 passes. He’ll also see more goal line touches, more consistent work, and more room to run on a team that can actually move the football through the air this season. He’s another year removed from that ACL tear and he’s the clear lead back. He was 5th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season and he’s my pick to lead the NFL in that category this season, as Brian Westbrook did under Reid in 2007.
Projection: 280 carries for 1540 rushing yards, 10 total touchdowns, 58 catches for 470 yards (261 pts standard, 319 pts PPR)
2. RB Adrian Peterson (Minnesota)
Of the 28 other players to ever rush for 1700+ yards in a season, only 3 exceeded their rushing total the following season. The average 1700+ yard rusher rushed for 615 fewer yards the following season. Sure, some of them got seriously hurt, but it’s not like it would be impossible for Peterson to do so and even when you take out the 4 players who didn’t make it to 200 carries the following season, they still averaged 474 yards fewer the following season. On top of that, those players also averaged 7/10ths of a yard fewer per carry, going from 5.1 yards per carry to 4.4 yards per carry. Now, Peterson is definitely not going to have a bad year. In fact, he’s still my pick to lead the NFL in rushing, but you can lead the NFL in rushing with 1600 yards.
Projection: 320 carries for 1630 rushing yards 12 total touchdowns 35 catches for 240 receiving yards (259 pts standard, 294 pts PPR)
3. RB CJ Spiller (Buffalo)
New Head Coach Doug Marrone was one of the run heaviest coaches in College Football, running more than they passed in all 4 seasons as Syracuse’s Head Coach, and they want to make life as easy as possible for Manuel. CJ Spiller will be the workhorse, playing every down including on the goal line, and the Buffalo website predicted he could see 30 touches per game. That would be an absurd 480 touches over the course of the season. That won’t happen, as is often the case with lofty touch expectations for backs because some games just force you to throw out your game plan and pass more than you’d like.
However, Marrone said he wants to feed Spiller the ball “until he throws up” and he runs a very up tempo fast paced offense so he’ll definitely get 30 touches in some games. 360 touches (300 carries and 60 catches) over the season wouldn’t be absurd. Spiller certainly has plenty of talent. He’s averaged 5.4 yards per carry in his career, including a ridiculous 6.0 yards per carry last season. He was 6th in the NFL with 1703 yards from scrimmage despite just 250 touches. He probably won’t maintain his rates because that’s near impossible for anyone to maintain, especially getting as many touches as Spiller is expected to, but all signs are pointing to the 9th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft being one of the NFL leaders in all-purpose yardage and having a Pro-Bowl breakout year.
Projection: 290 carries for 1480 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns 55 catches for 500 receiving yards (258 pts standard, 313 pts PPR)
4. RB Doug Martin (Tampa Bay)
While Martin did catch 49 passes as a rookie, the most impressive thing he did, by far, is rush for 1454 yards and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries, emerging as a true, complete feature back from the word go. As is the case with all running backs, his ability to replicate that in 2013 is dependent on whether or not he stays healthy. He does have a history of injuries from his days at Boise State, but he was still an incredible find with the 31st pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, after the Buccaneers traded back into the first to grab him, jumping ahead of the Giants, who were ready to take him one spot later.
Projection: 300 carries for 1350 rushing yards 12 total touchdowns 50 catches for 450 rushing yards (252 pts standard, 302 pts PPR)
5. RB Ray Rice (Baltimore)
Ray Rice’s 257 carries in 2012 were his lowest since 253, when Willis McGahee was still around. With Bernard Pierce coming on as a very capable backup, that number could be even lower this season. The good news, however, is that Rice averaged a career high 5.3 YPC in 2009 when his carries were lower and Pierce’s presence will help him stay fresh. Also with Anquan Boldin gone, expect Rice’s catch total to be closer to his career high of 78 than his 4-year low of 61 in 2010. The only concern is if the bigger Pierce starts taking away goal line carries, but there are no indications that will happen.
Projection: 240 carries for 1130 rushing yards 10 total touchdowns 75 catches for 650 yards (238 pts standard, 313 pts PPR)
6. RB Trent Richardson (Cleveland)
8/27/13: So much for him being injury prone. Trent Richardson is, by all accounts, having a phenomenal pre-season and Training Camp and has gotten himself down to 225 pounds and in phenomenal shape. With Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, he’s locked into a massive workload and should surpass the 318 touches he had last season. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last year thanks to injuries sapping his effectiveness, but he’s much more talented than that and he has a very strong offensive line in front of him.
Richardson struggled as a rookie through injuries, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on 267 carries, though he did catch 51 passes and score 12 times on an overall miserable offense. Now, Richardson is struggling through injuries once again this off-season. Richardson certainly has the talent to be one of the best running back in the NFL, but the question isn’t with his talent. It’s whether or not he can stay healthy.
Projection: 280 carries for 1260 rushing yards 11 total touchdowns 56 catches for 450 receiving yards (237 pts standard, 293 pts PPR)
7. RB LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia)
McCoy had a very solid stretch from 2010-2011, missing just 2 games and rushing for 2389 yards and 24 touchdowns on 480 carries, with 126 catches for 907 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. He looked like one of the best and most complete backs in the NFL. However, in 2012, he struggled along with the rest of the Eagles’ offense, rushing for just 840 yards on 200 carries, catching 54 passes for 373 yards and scoring just 5 total times, only twice on the ground. He also missed 4 games with injury. He should bounce back this year.
Projection: 250 carries for 1150 rushing yards 10 total touchdowns 58 catches for 470 yards (222 pts standard, 280 pts PPR)
8. RB Marshawn Lynch (Seattle)
Marshawn Lynch has completely revitalized his career in Seattle. He struggled in his first season in Seattle, with the exception of the beast mode run in the post-season against the Saints, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, but in 2011, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 285 carries with 12 touchdowns. In 2012, he improved that to 5.0 yards per carry on 315 carries with another 11 touchdowns as Russell Wilson’s arm and rushing ability took the defense’s attention off of Lynch. His only real flaw is he’s caught just 51 passes in the last 2 seasons. I don’t see why Lynch can’t do something similar again in 2013, though he may see slightly fewer carries heading into his age 27 season as the Seahawks used a 2nd round pick on a running back in Christine Michael.
Projection: 280 carries for 1320 rushing yards 11 total touchdowns 25 catches for 190 receiving yards (217 pts standard, 242 pts PPR)
9. RB Stevan Ridley (New England)
In his first year as a starter, Stevan Ridley rushed for 1263 yards and 12 touchdowns on 290 attempts last season. The Patriots could run even more this season, missing weapons in the passing game, but still planning on running the NFL’s fastest pace. He has a great offensive supporting cast and should continue to put up big rushing numbers. He just doesn’t give you anything in the passing game.
Projection: 300 carries for 1350 rushing yards 12 total touchdowns 7 catches for 50 receiving yards (212 pts standard, 219 pts PPR)
10. RB Alfred Morris (Washington)
It can be easy to forget because of what Robert Griffin did, but RG3 wasn’t the Redskins’ only rookie sensation. 6th round rookie Alfred Morris surprisingly won the starting job week 1 and did his best Terrell Davis impression for the rest of the season, rushing for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns on 335 attempts. However, Morris owes a lot of his success to Griffin taking the attention off of him. Defenses had to focus on Griffin’s arm strength and running ability and, as a result, Morris had a lot of running room in their read option offense. Credit Morris for his vision, intelligence, and for wasting no movement, but it’s definitely worth noting that Morris rushed for just 3.2 yards per carry without Griffin against Cleveland. Morris’ running success will largely be tied to Griffin’s success and Morris also provides very little on passing downs, catching just 11 passes for 77 yards.
Projection: 300 carries for 1320 rushing yards 11 total touchdowns 10 catches for 70 yards (205 pts standard, 215 pts PPR)
11. RB Matt Forte (Chicago)
Forte has missed just 7 games in 5 seasons (though they’ve all been in the last 2 seasons) and totaled 1529 touches (1262 carries, 267 receptions) in 75 games, 20.4 per game. He’s averaged 4.2 yards per carry and with more complementary offensive talent around him, he could see that number increase this season. As long as he doesn’t get hurt (always the caveat for running backs) or prematurely age going into his age 28 season, he should have another solid season.
Projection: 250 carries for 1100 rushing yards 9 total touchdowns 50 catches for 400 yards (204 pts standard, 254 pts PPR)
12. RB Maurice Jones Drew (Jacksonville)
MJD returns from an injury plagued season in which he played just 6 games and saw just 86 carries before going down with a foot injury. It’s possible he could bounce back this season, but he is going into his age 28 season and after all the work he had from 2009-2011 (1084 touches), it’s possible he’ll never be the same back again. He’s still suffering through lingering effects of that injury.
Projection: 250 carries for 1150 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 50 catches for 370 yards (200 pts standard, 250 pts PPR)
13. RB Arian Foster (Houston)
Arian Foster averaged a career low 4.1 yards per carry in 2012, thanks to the loss of two starting offensive linemen. His YPC has been trended down since he lost fullback Vonta Leach and he’s also had a lot of work over the past few years. he’s had 1115 regular season touches, plus another 128 post-season touches.
Last season, he led the NFL with 351 carries which is bad news for his 2013. Since 1988, only 4 of 24 running backs who led the league in carries surpassed their rushing yards total the following season. In that time period, backs who lead the league in carries have averaged 367.7 carries per season, rushed for 1620.4 yards, and scored 14.3 touchdowns. The following season, they averaged 266.0 carries per season, rushed for 1063.5 yards, and scored 8.9 touchdowns. Foster is already nursing a calf injury in Training Camp. He’s also seen his catches drop from 66 to 53 to 40 over the past 3 seasons. Let him be someone else’s problem.
Projection: 260 carries for 1040 rushing yards 11 total touchdowns 38 catches for 300 yards (200 pts standard, 238 pts PPR)
14. RB Chris Johnson (Tennessee)
An improved offensive line has to be music to Chris Johnson’s ears because of how reliant on a good offensive line he is. He’s incredibly explosive through holes, but when there aren’t holes, he doesn’t do a lot to help himself, frequently dancing around in the backfield, and getting little after contact. It’s why he has such good games against bad run defenses and bad games against good run defenses. He’s as good as anyone in the NFL when the hole is there though so he could have a very good season. He could see fewer carries, but only slightly with Shonn Greene coming in. Unless he steals a bunch of touchdowns, he won’t hurt Johnson’s production too much. Johnson is also active in the passing game, catching 230 passes in 5 years and he’s missed just 1 game in his career.
Projection: 250 carries for 1200 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 44 catches for 340 receiving yards (196 pts standard, 240 pts PPR)
15. RB Eddie Lacy (Green Bay)
8/27/13: DuJuan Harris is out for the season with a knee injury. He was Lacy’s only real competition for carries. Fellow rookie Johnathan Franklins has appeared overmatched thus far, while neither Alex Green nor James Starks is very good. Lacy is still a rookie and he’s still on a pass heavy offense, but he has plenty of talent and he’ll have plenty of room to run and goal line opportunities on Green Bay’s talented offense. He’s a RB2 that could be drafted in the 2nd round if you want to double up on backs.
Eddie Lacy appears to be the favorite to be the lead back by a good margin. It’s tough to count on rookies, but Lacy has serious scoring potential in Green Bay’s offense and should surpass 200 carries if he stays healthy.
Projection: 240 carries for 1030 rushing yards 10 total touchdowns 31 catches for 250 receiving yards (188 pts standard, 219 pts PPR)
16. RB Reggie Bush (Detroit)
The Lions plan to utilize Bush the way the Saints utilized him, when he averaged 4.9 catches per game. That’s 78 catches over a 16 game season. That sounds like a lot, but he’s capable of doing so in this offense. The Lions have said they want to get him 80 catches. The inferior Joique Bell caught 52 passes in a part time role last season and Jahvid Best averaged 62 catches per 16 games during his short time as the Lions’ pass catching back before he got hurt. The only thing stopping Bush from getting 80 catches could be injuries. He missed 20 games in 5 seasons with the Saints and, though he only missed 1 in 2 years with the Dolphins, he’s now going into his age 28 season and his 8th year in the league.
Bush will probably also be their leading rusher, but he won’t get a ton of carries. For one, the Lions don’t run the ball very often. Two, Bush has never had more than 262 touches in a season and the Lions probably don’t want to go over that. They’ll prefer him to see his touches in the air (maybe 170 carries, 75 catches). Three, they do have two other backs capable of carrying the football. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure will see carries behind him.
Projection: 170 carries for 750 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 75 catches for 600 receiving yards (183 pts standard, 258 pts PPR)
17. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (Indianapolis)
8/16/13: Chuck Pagano called Bradshaw an every down back. He’ll be their lead back, with Ballard serving as a backup. The only concern is injuries.
Bradshaw was cut by the Giants this off-season going into just his age 27 season because they grew tired of his laundry list of injury problems. It took him a while to get picked up this off-season, but he’s one of the toughest running backs in the NFL, missing just 7 games in 4 years despite all the injury problems.He’s rushed for 3687 yards and 30 touchdowns on 831 carries in those 4 seasons, a 4.4 yards per carry clip, and he’s added 125 catches for 1033 yards and 2 touchdowns in the air. He’s also averaged 15.9 carries per game over the past 3 years as a starter, so being able to work in tandem with another back will help him.
Projection: 220 carries for 920 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 35 catches for 280 receiving yards (168 pts standard, 203 pts PPR)
18. RB Frank Gore (San Francisco)
For the 3rd straight year, the 49ers have drafted a running back. While Marcus Lattimore might not play a snap this year due to injury, it’s just another reminder that the 49ers feel Gore doesn’t have much left. Heading into his age 30 season, Gore has played all 16 games in each of the last 2 years after doing so just once in his first 6 seasons, but the reason for that is because the 49ers have cut his touches per game in each of the last 2 years, from 22.6 in 2010 to 18.7 in 2011 to 17.9 in 2012. Expect that number to shrink down even more in 2013 with Kendall Hunter returning from injury and LaMichael James getting a bigger role and he’s no lock to play all 16 games.
It’s also worth noting that he’s tired out down the stretch in each of the last 2 seasons. In 2011, he averaged 4.9 YPC in his first 8 games and 3.6 YPC in his last 8 games, while in 2012, he went from 5.5 YPC to 4.0 YPC. He’s also not as big a part of the passing game under Jim Harbaugh as he used to be, catching 45 passes in the last 2 years combined after averaging 51 per year in the previous 5 years. Colin Kaepernick, who rarely checks down, threw to him even less, as he caught just 11 passes in his 10 starts. Gore is a RB2, but one with little upside and a lot of downside considering his age and the amount of competition in the backfield.
Projection: 220 carries for 990 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 20 catches for 160 yards (163 pts standard, 183 pts PPR)
19. RB Lamar Miller (Miami)
Daniel Thomas has shown very little in his two years as a pro, rushing for 906 yards on 256 carries (just 3.5 YPC) and the coaching staff that drafted him is gone. Miller is the clear starter at this point in the off-season and that does not figure to change. He’s a solid bet for 1000 yards as the new feature back in Miami and should have right around the 227 carries Reggie Bush had last season.
Projection: 230 carries for 1010 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 25 catches for 180 receiving yards (161 pts standard, 186 pts PPR)
20. RB Steven Jackson (Atlanta)
Steven Jackson can’t be worse than Michael Turner, but Falcons fans might not be getting the guy they’re expecting. He turns 30 in July and has 2395 career carries. He’s 26th all-time in rushing yards at 10,135, but the average top-25 all-time running back has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.5 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. He should have one more good year in him, but there are no guarantees at this point in his career.
Projection: 200 carries for 860 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 30 catches for 250 rushing yards (159 pts standard, 189 pts PPR)
21. RB Darren McFadden (Oakland)
McFadden’s supporters are always making excuses for him. Last year it was that he didn’t fit the blocking scheme (does that explain why he averaged just 1.9 yards per carry after contact, 3rd worst in the NFL, and broke just 16 tackles on 216 carries?) However, the fact remains that we’re entering year 6 of Darren McFadden in NFL and he’s never had more than 223 carries in a season, he averages just 4.3 yards per carry for his career, he’s coming off of a season in which he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, and he’s played just 57 of 80 possible games, maxing out with 13 games played in a season. At his current ADP in the 3rd round, let him be someone else’s problem. He’s Ryan Mathews with a better PR team.
Projection: 200 carries for 880 rushing yards 6 total touchdowns 43 catches for 320 receiving yards (156 pts standard, 199 pts PPR)
22. RB DeMarco Murray (Dallas)
DeMarco Murray might be a little overrated off of the 25 carry/253 yard performance against St. Louis in his first NFL start as a 3rd round rookie in 2011. That was a completely hapless Rams defense at the time and if you take out that game, he’s averaged just 4.4 yards per carry in his career. Last season, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and since his first 4 starts, he’s managed just 866 yards on 225 carries, a 3.8 YPC clip. He’s not as proven as people think. He’s also been hampered by numerous injuries, missing the end of his rookie season in 2011 and being limited to 161 carries in 2012. Injuries can not only keep a running back off the field, but also sap his explosiveness and Murray has injury issues dating back to his collegiate days at Oklahoma. There’s a reason he fell to the 3rd round.
Projection: 200 carries for 840 rushing yards and 7 total touchdowns 37 catches for 290 yards (155 pts, 192 pts PPR)
23. RB Chris Ivory (NY Jets)
In 3 seasons with the Saints, Ivory rushed for 1307 yards and 8 touchdowns on just 256 carries, an impressive 5.0 YPC. Now going to the Jets, he’ll finally get a chance to be atop the depth chart. We’ve seen what Ivory has done in 250 carries in his career and it would be huge if he could do that again. He probably won’t do quite that as he’ll be running against stacked boxes much more often with Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith under center than he was with Drew Brees, but the Jets actually have a solid run blocking offensive line, so they’ll give him help. The other concern is if he can remain effective when getting 15-20 carries per game for an extended period of time, something he’s never done. He’s also had injury issues of his own and is currently battling hamstring problems in Training Camp.
Projection: 230 carries for 1010 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns 14 catches for 100 receiving yards (153 pts standard, 167 pts PPR)
24. RB Shane Vereen (New England)
Danny Woodhead is gone so Vereen will take over a bigger role in the running game. Woodhead and Vereen combined for 138 carries last season and Vereen could be around there this year, even before you consider that the Patriots might run more. Vereen is also a good bet to exceed Woodhead’s 40 catches for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns from last season. He is a more talented and explosive back and including the playoffs, he had 15 catches for 254 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on just 117 pass snaps last season and he’s been lining up all over the formation this off-season and he could be the Patriots’ version of Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush. He could get 200 touches.
Projection: 140 carries for 630 rushing yards 6 total touchdowns 60 catches for 500 receiving yards (149 pts standard, 209 pts PPR)
25. RB Ryan Matthews (San Diego)
Mathews looked on his way to a big time breakout year in 2012, with backup Mike Tolbert no longer stealing carries from him and coming off a season 2011 season in which he averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 222 carries, with 50 catches for 455 yards, and 6 total touchdowns. However, injuries reared their head, as they always have for him, limiting him to just 184 carries, 3.8 yards per carry, 1 touchdown and 2 broken clavicles.
He’s missed 10 games in his first 3 years in the league, never playing more than 14 games, and his injury problems date back to his collegiate days. The new regime does not seem nearly as bullish on his upside as the old one and he figures to work in a running back committee with Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead. He may be better, more efficient, and less likely to get hurt being used in this fashion, but it’s starting to look like he’ll never be the lead back and LaDainian Tomlinson replacement they were expecting.
Projection: 200 carries for 840 rushing yards 6 total touchdowns 40 catches for 290 receiving yards (149 pts standard, 189 pts PPR)
26. RB David Wilson (NY Giants)
Wilson showed a lot of explosiveness as a rookie, especially on special teams, but he only got 71 carries. That should be closer to 200 this season. However, Andre Brown will continue to steal carries from him, especially around the goal line. The coaching staff doesn’t 100% trust Wilson get and Brown is the better short yardage and passing down back.
Projection: 200 carries for 900 rushing yards 7 total touchdowns 20 catches for 140 rushing yards (146 pts standard, 166 pts PPR)
27. RB Mark Ingram (New Orleans)
Mark Ingram will once again be the lead back and hoping to get things together in his 3rd year, after going in the 1st round in 2011. He’s averaged just 3.9 yards per carry since and had just 278 carries, struggling through injuries. He could breakout this season though and the Saints seem confident in him, trading away their top insurance option in Chris Ivory.
Projection: 200 carries for 880 rushing yards 8 total touchdowns 12 catches for 100 yards (146 pts standard, 158 pts PPR)
28. RB Darren Sproles (New Orleans)
Darren Sproles is essentially more of a slot receiver than a running back. He’s had 135 carries and 161 catches in the last 2 seasons and is a threat to score at any time, scoring 17 touchdowns. I don’t know why his role would change this season.
Projection: 60 carries for 300 yards 8 total touchdowns 77 catches for 670 receiving yards (145 pts standard, 222 pts PPR)
29. RB Daryl Richardson (St. Louis)
8/20/13: Daryl Richardson has been named the starting running back of the St. Louis Rams. He shouldn’t feel too comfortable as Isaiah Pead and/or Zac Stacy could both steal carries and even starts from him this season, but he gets moved up. Steven Jackson’s primary running back, Richardson rushed for 475 yards on 95 carries and also caught 24 passes for 163 yards. He’s a solid bet to go over 200 touches. Pead will be the change of pace back. There’s still an opportunity for Zac Stacy to eventually become a starter at some point this season if the unproven players above him on the depth chart don’t impress, but he’s not really worth drafting. He might be a nice late season waiver wire pickup if anything.
The Rams have a 3 way battle for the starting running back job and all 3 should see carries. You shouldn’t use a high pick on any of them unless one starts to run away with the job. They’re all draftable though. I consider Richardson the favorite. He was Jackson’s primary backup last season, rushing for 475 yards on 98 carries, while contributing 24 catches for 163 yards. The 7th round rookie leapfrogged 2nd round rookie Isaiah Pead on the depth chart for that job.
Projection: 180 carries for 790 rushing yards 6 total touchdowns 35 catches for 250 receiving yards (140 pts standard, 175 pts PPR)
30. Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati)
8/27/13: Bernard is not a full package back at just 5-8 202, but we’ve seen plenty of backs go in the 2nd round or later with similar billings and go to be to very good running backs, including Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew. It’s unclear how much he can contribute as a rookie, however, as neither of those backs were every down guys until after their 1st season, once they had more time in an NFL weight room. He’ll probably split carries with BJGE, but he’s the more explosive player and more of a factor in the passing game.
Projection: 160 carries for 720 rushing yards 5 total touchdowns 37 catches for 300 yards (132 pts, 169 pts PPR)